Q&A: Tom Flanagan Karttunen, Radisson

With plans to add 45 properties to its EMEA portfolio this year, Tom Flanagan Karttunen – Area Senior Vice President for Northern and Western Europe at Radisson Hotel Group, talks travel recovery, expansion plans, and why sustainability is becoming an increased focus.

How would you sum up the hospitality sector at present?

After a few challenging years, the hospitality industry is starting to move towards pre-pandemic levels of occupancy and business, as it continues well on the road to recovery. We are seeing increased travel for both business and leisure, and we expect this to continue into the summer and the remainder of 2022.

Why is now a good time for Radisson Hotel Group to further expand globally?

There is no doubt the last few years have presented a significant challenge for the travel and hospitality industry. However, it also provided us with the opportunity to reflect, reassess and plan for future growth across our portfolio of nine diverse brands. While many hotel groups put their development plans on hold, we continued to roll-out our five-year transformation plan. This resulted in the implementation of systems to maximise revenue across our hotel portfolio, as well as continued investment in our operating systems, resulting in the delivery of a strong GOP in the industry. In 2021, we reached a new milestone as the most successful year ever of signings, and we are looking forward to surpassing this in 2022 with 330 planned.

We have had a strong start to 2022, signing and opening over 50 hotels to date across our EMEA and APAC portfolio. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we are planning to double our signings in EMEA by adding 45 properties, and to increase our signings in APAC with 285 properties, together with our partners, as we move closer to achieving our goal of doubling our global portfolio through growth in APAC by 2025. A particular focus for growth across EMEA is the expansion of our midscale lifestyle brand, Prizeotel, with 45 new signings in select EU countries over the next five years, as well as the introduction of the brand to the UK.

Which of your forthcoming openings are you most excited about and why?

We are excited to continue growing our luxury lifestyle brand, Radisson Collection in key destinations across EMEA and APAC. Key openings so far this year have been Radisson Collection Hotel, Gran Vía Bilbao, which has an impressive rooftop terrace and is home to the world’s first NKO restaurant by local Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa. Then there is the highly anticipated and recently renovated Radisson Collection Hotel in Berlin-Mitte. Since the launch of Radisson Collection in 2018, the brand’s portfolio has grown to over 45 properties, including recent openings of eagerly awaited properties in Seville, Milan, Venice and Tallinn.

Our art and design focused brand, Radisson Red has also expanded to nearly 70 hotels worldwide and we recently opened Radisson Red Oslo Airport, introducing the brand to Norway and providing a connection from the hotel to the airport terminal. Another airport property is Radisson Red London Heathrow, offering an option for guests looking for a night’s stay before or after their holiday. It’s also great for business travellers visiting London or looking for a large multi-purpose meeting and events space with access to the capital.

In the UK, we are most excited about the opening of Radisson Red Liverpool later this year. The property will take over the historic Grade II listed North Western Hall building in the city centre, originally built in 1871 as a railway hotel. The extensive restoration has included work on a 19th century stained glass window, a grand sandstone staircase and a secret doorway connecting the development to Liverpool Lime Street train station.

What trends have you seen worldwide over the past 12 months?

2022 has had a promising start as the world looks to travel again. Bookings for intra-European travel have increased by more than 250% and summer bookings have surpassed the 2021 levels by 80%, according to the WTTC. STR also note that hotel occupancy levels in the UK and Ireland are currently among the highest in Europe. Both destinations have achieved occupancy indexes of at least 80% of pre-pandemic levels, with the UK performing particularly well with running 28-day occupancy to April 11 at 87% compared to the same period in 2019. Countries like Greece, Spain, and Turkey are almost back to their pre-pandemic levels.

We are also seeing a return of business travel in line with the easing of restrictions across EMEA. Business travel is at its highest level since the start of the pandemic as more corporate business travel, live events and face-to-face meetings take place. We hope for a full recovery across business and leisure-business by 2023.

Where do you see the hospitality sector headed in the future?

As we move into the post-pandemic phase, there will be an increased focus on sustainability all along the supply chain. Over the past couple of years, the world has realised its impact on the planet, and the hospitality sector is taking an active role to ensure that we do our part. Our world needs sustainable solutions and we know the crucial decade of action to move towards Net Zero by 2050 is now. These ambitious targets can only be reached by including everyone in the hospitality industry on the sustainability journey. Earlier this year, we played a key role in the development and launch of the Hotel Sustainability Basics, which is a common and inclusive definition of hotel sustainability to drive responsible travel and tourism. The criteria for the scheme includes 12 actions – like energy and waste – that are fundamental to hotel sustainability.

With the Hotel Sustainability Basics, we have collectively defined the common starting point accessible to all hotels and the industry framework to grow sustainable travel. I am pleased to see that the sector is taking a coordinated and non-competitive way forward to facilitate a truly and effective response to the climate change challenge we face. The Hotel Sustainability Basics are a first step that will help every hotel get started on their sustainability journey faster, with clarity and transparency, and answering customers’ demands for sustainable travel options that are understandable. This will move us at Radisson Hotel Group, together with our owners Jin Jiang International, and the whole industry closer towards the ultimate target of Net Zero.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges in the coming years?

One of the biggest challenges we are facing right now is a shortage of talent in the hospitality industry. The recovery of travel is overtaking the recovery of labor, which is putting pressure on the industry. People want to travel and the industry doesn’t have the team members in place to support the delivery of pre-pandemic standards and expectations. Radisson Hotel Group recently launched a recruitment campaign to attract talent to over 1,500 vacancies in EMEA and APAC. Since the start of 2022, the group has received more than 100,000 applications, and we are looking for more strong candidates, in particular for front of house roles. Now is an incredibly exciting time for ambitious go-getters to join the hospitality industry and gain incomparable learning opportunities and experiences in a fun, dynamic and culturally diverse work environment.

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